When buying new pots and pans, does it make sense to spend a lot for a matching set or is going a less-expensive direction OK? Should they be nonstick or some other material?
These questions were posed by friends recently and then coincidentally by a caller to a Milk Street Radio podcast hosted by Christopher Kimball and Sara Molten. Big surprise: They didn’t recommend a matched set but rather four very different pieces of equipment.
“I like a 10-inch stainless steel skillet with a copper core,” Molten said. “Copper is hands-down the best conductor of heat. And that’s what you want for even cooking. There are many companies that make them, like All-Clad.”
“However, my all-time favorite skillet is high-carbon steel,” he said. “When they are seasoned properly with oil and never washed with hot soapy water, they last for years and are excellent nonstick pans. After using, just wipe them out and rub with more oil if needed.”
The co-hosts also agreed on two other items: an 11-inch cast-iron skillet and a heavy-duty Dutch oven. They were especially fond of enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens, like what Le Creuset makes.
And when it comes to nonstick pans, they had different opinions.
“Those old-fashioned nonstick pans made with chemicals are a bad choice,” Molten said. “Now they are made with a ceramic coating. I really think there is a place for a nonstick pan for cooking eggs and breaded fish. But even the ones with ceramic coating only have a two-year shelf life. So save them for special stuff.”
Kimball again touted his carbon steel choice, for the same reasons: It lasts a long time, and ceramic coating “wears out.” He loves carbon steel for cooking eggs.
Based on his recommendation, I’ve added a 7-inch high carbon steel skillet to my equipment. The pan came with a beeswax coating that was removed with very hot water. I seasoned the pan with vegetable oil, heated until the oil smoked, then wiped out the oil with paper towel.
The more the pan is used, the better the cooking performance. The darker it becomes, the better it is for natural nonstick properties.
To clean the pan, run it under very hot water and wipe dry. Oil it lightly with paper towel and put away.
So, there you have it. Skip buying a matching set of pans unless you want to display them on a fancy hanging rack. Instead, go for four simple pans, and your bases will be covered for years of happy cooking.
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